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Wine in Context #10: Return to Thieuley

A few years ago (well, maybe more than a few) December would always feature my Wine in Context reports. It was meant to be an antidote to the usual festive ‘top ten wines of the year’ lists. These lists always featured 18th-century Madeira, numerous first growths, Rousseau Chambertin and at least one vintage but maybe more of Petrus. Sometimes, and I have no problem with admitting jealousy here, they included old vintages from Domaine Huet from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. Then there was another list of “the next best ninety wines that didn’t quite make it”. Such lists never really spoke to me, with my cellar full of Saumur-Champigny and middling Bordeaux. Do they speak to anyone?

Wine is much more than a list of impressive vintages as long as your arm, necked back at dinners hosted by the wine trade, for the wine trade. Wine in Context is more about circumstances than scores; sometimes what’s outside the glass is more important than what’s in it. Sometimes wine teaches us something, and the lesson is more significant than whether the wine itself was a Savennières or a Sancerre (shocking thought, I know). And so, in a mad rush between here and the end of the year, here is the return of Wine in Context, and a rapid countdown starting today of my best wine moments of 2015.

Château Thieuley

Starting us off at number ten is a recent visit to Château Thieuley, a name which only the value-conscious buyer will be aware of. If you spend all your spare time posting shots of the Le Pin, Lafite-Rothschild and the like you drink at home on a Tuesday evening to Instagram, then this estate might not be familiar to you. Indeed, it wasn’t familiar to me when I visited it many many years ago on one of my first ever press trips to Bordeaux. So unfamiliar, in fact, that I couldn’t place it in the context of what I understood about the region. It wasn’t in a famous appellation, those through which I had learnt about Bordeaux, and yet here we were visiting it. This was of course long before I learnt that beyond the top cru classé châteaux there are actually a lot of domaines worth knowing about in Bordeaux. Most of its production was white wine, and yet this wasn’t Graves or Pessac-Léognan, this was the Entre-Deux-Mers. Again, I have since realised that the gravelly-sandy soils here can be great for white varieties. And was the domaine important? Don’t people just want to read about the aforementioned Le Pin and Lafite-Rothschild? I have since come round to the notion that these smaller domaines, in lesser appellations, are just as significant for the region as all the famous names (even if they don’t generate as many ‘likes’ on social media).

As a result of my doubts (and self-doubt, perhaps?) I never wrote about that first visit, and in more recent times I came to rue that decision. With more experience I understood the context for this domaine, and where it sits in a region that has so much more to offer than just cru classé bottles. I came to appreciate the little guys in Bordeaux, those turning out lovely wines that are great value, and which overturn the idea that Bordeaux is just for the super-wealthy now. And revisiting the estate I understood more clearly the work they do here, on a large vineyard, to a tight budget, turning out significant volumes of tasty wine. And of course I understood how that needed to be publicised, because the Courselle family at Château Thieuley need their moment in the spotlight just as much as more famous estates in Pauillac and Pomerol.

This more recent visit in October 2015 was, in a way, me closing the loop. It was a little like returning to a school you once attended, long after you have moved on. It wasn’t so much what I learned during the visit that was important (although it was interesting enough, and the profile has been written, and is set for publication in the next couple of weeks), it was more the realisation about what I have learned in the intervening years that made this visit significant. I have changed a lot in the interim. And that is, I think, a very good thing.

More Wine in Context moments over the next few days. If you want to contribute, feel free to add your favourite moment in the comments below – or if you have a longer report from a great wine dinner, wine trip, wine tasting or other wine moment during 2015 you can email it to me, and I can host it on the blog for you.

Exploring Sherry #14: Dos Cortados

Having breathed new life into my exploration of Sherry I seem, since my encounter with the Don Fernando wines, own-label efforts from Fernando de Castilla, to have enjoyed a good run of really interesting wines. Next in the line up was a return to what remains one of my favourite styles, palo cortado.

The Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados is a fascinating wine not just because the quality in the glass is good, but because it affords a glimpse into the aging of palo cortado wines. Before we start, let me return to some words I wrote in my post on the Leonor Palo Cortado, explaining how wines are transformed from fresh and lively fino into the elegantly bronzed style that is palo cortado:

In the occasional barrel the flor would die before its time, exposing the wine to oxygen, and thereby altering how it aged. In this case the cellar master would remove the barrel bearing its palo, a downward mark indicating it belonged to the fino solera. This would then be crossed (or cortado) with a second mark to identify the barrel, which is now palo cortado.

Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados

The process might involve a little more than than, in particular the wines can be adjusted with alcohol to protect them, after which they are left to age oxidatively. Returning to them many years later, the alcohol adjustment may have to be repeated, in which case a second mark (cortado) would be made on the barrel to record this – hence the wine is now dos cortados.

In the case of the Williams & Humbert Palo Cortado Dos Cortados the wine is aged on average at least twenty years. This has a really smart-looking bronze hue in the glass, with a broad green tinge to the rim. It starts with a fairly challenging nose, vibrant, slightly high toned, with some notes of dry-baked earth, dried walnuts, raisins and smoky coffee. This is followed by a firm, nicely framed palate, with bitter fruits and some dry-baked and desiccated orange peel. The feel of it is very vinous, with very bright acidity, a rolling warm blanket of smoke bilowing over the top, and an acid bite in the finish. A fascinating wine, clearly mature and confident in its very evolved state. Tense and long, and lovely with it. 16.5/20 (December 2015)

Bordeaux Tourism: Chateau Le Pape

I visit Bordeaux fairly frequently, always to taste, taste and taste. Why else come to Bordeaux? And when I do I often find myself living it up in the Ibis Budget or similar (Room rules: no smoking, no eating, no workboots, no ‘extra guests’). That’s fine for a business trip, but what if you fancy a holiday in the region? A stay in one of the region’s many budget hotels, which more often than not are located on zones industrialles on the outskirts of town (which means you will probably be sandwiched between the local Buffalo Grill and a van rental depot), just isn’t going to cut it.

I highlighted one rather more attractive option for the hopeful Bordeaux tourist in a recent blog post, A Bordeaux Guesthouse. Château Le Pape, purchased by Robert Wilmers of Château Haut-Bailly a few years ago, has been sensitively but thoroughly restored, the gardens landscaped, and the vineyard is undergoing extensive replanting. The château now serves as a fully-serviced guesthouse, and I accepted their invitation to check it out.

Château Le Pape

First of all, the location is ideal; Château Le Pape is in a secluded spot just to the south of Villenave d’Ornon. Even though it is only a few minutes from the Rocade, and therefore a very short drive indeed from the airport, this really feels the part. The immediate surroundings are very rural, with vines on three sides, woodland on the fourth. This is a working vineyard (there was plenty of pruning and tieing-in going on when I stayed) and so you can experience life on a Bordeaux estate first-hand, although there is no need to limit yourself to Château Le Pape – the estate is within walking distance of Château Haut-Bailly, Château La Louvière, Château Carbonnieux and even Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte (although mind you don’t get lost in the woods heading there – can I suggest you take the car instead?).

Inside, the château has been gutted and renovated from the ground up; the eye-catching ceiling paintings in the foyer are original, but I am told everything else is new. The breakfast room and bedrooms are immaculately appointed, yet the feel is welcoming and homely rather than aloof or palatial. The bedrooms are all en-suite and obviously all newly decorated, and there’s no faulting the bed; this was the best night’s sleep I ever had in Bordeaux. There are some luxurious touches, Hermes toiletries for one, and a delicious breakfast served each day with more options than I can remember was another. This latter feature is down to the château’s host Hervé Audibert, who lives on-site and who will gladly cater for your every need. Hervé came here having carved out a very successful career in hospitality in Savoie, but he fancied a change in scene and Château Le Pape clearly suits him well. He rustles up a pretty smart bowl of scrambled eggs for breakfast, and considering he has probably never even heard of Delia Smith his soft-boiled eggs aren’t bad either. And I suspect he will go the extra mile for any visitor; during my brief stay, there were just two other guests, and Hervé gladly ferried them to a local restaurant where they had a table booked for dinner, and he picked them up again at the end of the night. Meanwhile I was happy in my room, flouting the usual Ibis rules to which I am usually subjected, eating a sandwich while wearing my workboots in as casual a manner as possible (but that’s as far as it went, just to be clear).

Twenty years ago Bordeaux tourism was something of an oxymoron, but that’s clearly no longer the case. Things have changed, as there are an increasing number of options for the wine-curious tourist in Bordeaux now, and Château Le Pape must be one of the strongest. Rooms start at €220 per night, although I think a stay here would be so much more than just a roof over your head. Just remember to pack your workboots.

For more information, check out the website: Château Le Pape.

Disclosure: I stayed at Château Le Pape as a guest of the proprietors.

Bordeaux 2015: Sandrine Garbay, Yquem

It seems somehow right to leave my visit to Yquem, to hear what winemaker Sandrine Garbay (pictured below) thought of the 2015 vintage, to last. Well, at least I think this is my last Bordeaux 2015 report (before the primeurs anyway). I will have to scour my notes to see if there is anybody I overlooked.

After a slurp of the 2013 Yquem in the new tasting room, I asked Sandrine how 2015 had gone for Sauternes, and for Château d’Yquem in particular.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Sandrine: We haven’t quite finished the harvest at Château d’Yquem yet – we are due to finish tomorrow. [this was October 19th] The beginning of the season was actually quite difficult, up until June anyway. Then things changed, and we had good weather which lasted until the harvest. It was warm, with a little rain now and then, which always came at the right moment.

Me: How has the harvest progressed?

Sandrine: We started the harvest very early, as we began picking for the dry wine on August 25th. The Sauvignon, which dominates Ygrec which is a 70/30 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was really delicious this year. We didn’t pick for the sweet wine until September 3rd. And since then the harvest has continued, gradually, over six 6 weeks now.

Me: Is there any particular tri that stands out?

Sandrine: We have had four tries in 2015. The main period of picking was from September 28th until October 6th, we picked more than 60% in this window. It is a tri with good concentration in terms of sugar, but also good acidity.

The first tri began on September 3rd, and lasted a long time, running until September 20th. Then we had a pause which lasted for just over a week. We started again with the second tri as described above on the 28th. Then we began picking for the third tri at the start of October.

Combining the second and third tries gives us most of the harvest, and the highest quality too. The first tri a good volume, even though we were picking small amounts here and there it added up, but the quality is not as high as it was in tries two and three.

The fourth and final tri started perhaps on October 10th, and there was straggled picking from this point on. Last week, for example, out of the seven days we had just two days of picking.

Me: Thanks Sandrine.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Exploring Sherry #13: Don Fernando

I can’t believe it’s been more than two months since the last bottle of Sherry popped up on this blog. That was the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado back in August. I blame 2015 Bordeaux; I have spent some time travelling and tasting, and writing too. Sherry ended up on the backburner for a while.

But now it’s back! I continue today with episode 13, featuring a supermarket bargain.

I almost never write about supermarket own-labels and brands (the Gonzalez Byass Fino Delicado – exclusive to Waitrose unless I am mistaken – was a rare exception). The reason for this is two-fold; first, own-label wines never teach you anything about a region, and second, wines available only from a UK retailer are of little interest to the majority of my readership, which has a much more global feel.

I will make an exception today, though, because the wines are so good.

Don Fernando Oloroso

Don Fernando might not be a familiar name even to regular Sherry drinkers, but these wines are sourced from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a renowned and well-regarded bodegas. It is a boutqiue operation, only really established a few decades ago, and quality is high. Both of these wines, available in Marks & Spencers, are very good, but it is the Oloroso that really does it for me.

Don Fernando Fino: An unfiltered fino. This has a fair, lemon-gold hue. Quite confident aromatics, good flor notes here, with a dry, sandy, driftwood backbone, and touches of green olive. It is also lightly salty, a touch marine, but it is still appealing. It has a substantial start on the palate, certainly textured, quite seamless in its presence, fresh with good bite, bright acids, and a long warming finish. Challenging, upright, and very nicely polished. Very good. With all its texture and character, this feels a little like a halfway-house between your standard fino, and an upmarket en rama bottling. 16.5/20 (November 2015)

Don Fernando Oloroso: Things move up a gear here. This wine is sourced from the first criadera (the level just before solera, the final stage in the solera system before bottling) of the Antique solera system, Antique being the upper-class range at Fernando de Castilla. This has a very rich, deep, shimmering golden-brown hue, tinged with red. And it has a wonderful nose, hugely expressive, filled with walnuts and wood polish, lifted by an orange zest freshness. What is most striking about the palate, apart from the hugely characterful concantration that is, is the texture, which is as broad as it is deep, the wine sliding across the palate like liquid velvet. Despite this it remains dry, energetic, grippy, tense and structured. It is also really long in the finish, which is infused with nuances of dried walnuts. Remarkable quality for such a widely available wine. Fabulous. 17/20 (November 2015)

One thing’s for sure, I did learn something from these wines. I learnt that I need to investigate the wines of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla more thoroughly.

Bordeaux 2015: David Suire, Larcis Ducasse

Somehow another five days have passed since my last Bordeaux 2015 report, featuring the words of Thomas Duroux. Time to put that right now.

After finishing up in Margaux, and on the left bank in general, I headed over to the right bank (stopping of at Château Reignac on the way, profile and tasting report to follow). One of my first ports of call was Château Larcis Ducasse, in St Emilion, where I met up with David Suire.

The estate is owned by the Gratiot family, but in 2002 they turned its running over to Nicolas Thienpont, who in turn installed David Suire to manage the vineyard and chai. He has been doing some really interesting work here, increasing his understanding of the vineyard and fine-tuning its management, running each parcel differently, sometimes identifying micro-parcels within others that need more specific attention. In the cellars, he has instigated a partial shift away from small oak to larger, 500-litre barrels. It’s fascinating stuff.

During my visit, I asked him how 2015 had gone.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

David: It’s not a bad vintage [said with a knowing grin], but there are some things you should know. June and July were very important on the limestone of St Emilion because it was very dry, and a dry summer on this soil is almost always synonymous with a great vintage.

So we were confident at the end of July that the potential was great, but we had to wait at least two months to see if the potential would be realised. At the end of July the berries were tiny, with strong skins. The vines were a little early, not like in 2011 when they were really very early, but certainly a few days earlier, just like 2010 at this stage.

Then August came, and with it we had a lot of rain, and a cooler climate too. It changed our vision of the vintage, because we went from from concentrated and tannic berries to berries where the tannins could be diluted by the rain. Maybe things would be a little more tender.

Then things changed again in September, which was good, the weather was now hot and dry again, and this continued into October too. We had alternating dry and humid weather, and this was good to mature the skins and tannins. I think this helped the quality of the tannins. When you have only dry weather you can taste that in the tannins, and of course when it only rains they are green.

This year though they are ripe, and yet also softened by the rain, they are more tender than in 2011. Today, when we taste the first wines we have made, we can taste the richness of the vintage in them. They have a very nice, very beautiful complexity, they have rich but fine tannins, which is good at this stage. You can’t really feel the tannins are there, you can only feel them through the power of the wine.

Me: Thanks. Is it like any other vintage?

David: Concerning the balance we think it is between 2009 and 2010; the richness is like 2009, but the wines have more freshness than that vintage, although they also have a little less acidity than 2010. They are more approachable than the 2010s, with better balance than the 2009s.

Me: Can you talk me through the harvest?

David: We started on September 21st on Murmure [a specific parcel] for the second wine also called Murmure, which we started making in 2010. The first picking for Larcis Ducasse was on September 28th, on the lower parcels.

We had a very long period of picking, it lasted three to four weeks on some properties. The maturation was moving slowly. We had to pick, then wait, pick, then wait. It was a very comfortable way to harvest! We finished on October 12th, concluding mainly with the Cabernet Franc and a few last Merlots, having started the Cabernet Franc on October 7th.

Me: How about yields and potentials?

David: The yields are maybe 37 hl/ha. The potential alcohols are like 2009 and 2010, perhaps 14.5-14.6º, quite high, but with quite high acidity. When we tasted we didn’t feel the alcohol.

Me: Thanks David.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Thomas Duroux, Palmer

I can just about manage to squeeze in another quick post on the 2015 Bordeaux vintage and harvest before we hit the weekend. And it’s a good one, because Thomas Duroux (of Château Palmer) always gives a frank and insightful report on how the growing season and harvest went. He speaks with the authority that comes with running (successfully, it has to be said) one of the great (in my opinion) cru classé vineyards, one which outclasses other third growths with regularity, certain second growths with equal regularity, and (wording this bit carefully) in a couple of recent vintages it has certainly been my favourite wine in the Margaux appellation when tasting during the primeurs week. These days, however, he also brings us news of the vintage as seen from a biodynamic point of view; over several years the proportion of the vineyard managed using biodynamics has increased, so that by the 2013 vintage the majority of the vineyard was biodynamic, by 2014 it was 100% biodynamic, and so 2015 was its second year in full biodynamics.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Thomas: It was fabulous, a perfect season. From June 12th to the end of July we had no rain. The vines stopped growing early, and we had small berries, at the end of July we were a little concerned about this.

But then at the end of July and into August we had a little rain, not too much – we had 70 mm by the end of August which is average for the month – and this really helped after such a dry June and July.

Then we had a beautiful September to begin with. During mid-September there was a little concern, because we had some more rain. That made us worried that we would miss out on what was promising to be a super vintage, but I don’t think we did in the end.

Me: When did you start picking?

Thomas: When it came to picking, the harvest was at the same time as our neighbours, no earlier or later. We started on a few blocks of young Merlot on September 15th, but we only really started on the 22nd. We finished on October 7th.

I am happy with all the varieties this year. Thankfully we didn’t have any botrytis with the rain in September. We ended up with ripe fruit, ripe tannins in the skins and the pips were ripe too. With such ripeness there is no risk of over extraction in my opinion, so 2015 will see a bit more extraction than is usual for Palmer.

Me: How about your yields? Have they been impacted by biodynamics?

Thomas: We have a yield of about 35-36 hl/ha this year, which is normal for us. We never aim for more than 40 hl/ha anyway.

Me: This is your second year of full biodynamics. Has that made a difference?

Thomas: Is it vintage for biodynamics? I don’t know but it has been really intriguing. My intuition was that going over entirely to biodynamics would make it easier to understand the individualities in the vineyard, but it was just a feeling. But this year it really happened.

This is my twelfth vintage here, and it is the first time in twelve years that we pre-blended, because from the moment we had the wine in the vats it was incredibly clear which were destined for Palmer, and which was heading for Alter Ego.

Me: Thanks Thomas.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Bruno Rolland, Leoville-Las-Cases

During my little tour of Bordeaux to check out the 2013 vintage I had just one appointment in St Julien, that being at Château Léoville-Las-Cases. As usual I was greeted by Bruno Rolland, the maître de chai here. Bruno is not a well-known face outside Bordeaux, but he has Léoville-Las-Cases running in his bloodstream. His father, Michel Rolland (no, not that one, this is a different Michel Rolland) was previously the maître de chai before Bruno took on the role.

Usually when tasting with Bruno he takes me into a half-laboratory half-tasting room off the side of the Las-Cases cellars, but on this occasion we went up to the château, where I usually find myself tasting during the primeurs. Once we had worked our way through the 2013s, and admired the newly landscaped garden behind, I opened the batting on 2015. As with my meeting with Jean-René, this meeting was in French, so the words below are translated by me.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Bruno: It is certainly a great vintage, the tannins are voluminous, especially in the Cabernet Sauvignons. The Cabernet Sauvignons have done best here.

Me: How did the picking go?

Bruno: We began the picking on September 22nd, Merlots first and Cabernets later, so at the moment not all of the later-picked Cabernet Sauvignons have finished fermenting. The harvest went on for eighteen days. At the beginning it was magnificent, with beautiful long days, and cool nights.

On the whole all the châteaux began the harvest early, and we all began together. There was very good homogeneity in the fruit, it was very clean, perfectly clean in fact. Fruit in this condition should mean a beautiful vintage, perhaps not the very best, but beautiful.

Me: How does it compare to other vintages?

Bruno: I can’t compare it with another vintage at the moment. One reason for this is the Cabernet Sauvignons are still fermenting, some vats have finished but not all have finished yet. The vats that have finished have an extraordinary structure though. It should be a vintage of powerful tannins. The IPT for Léoville-Las-Cases is 73 at the moment, the potentials were good too.

Me: What about your other domaines?

Bruno: In Pomerol there is great potential also. It is difficult to position the vintage at the moment though. It will be better than 2014 though. It was also a great vintage for whites, indeed the conditions for whites were optimumm!

Me: Thanks Bruno.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Bordeaux 2015: Jean-Rene Matignon, Pichon-Baron

After a break last week – I was on the road quite a lot and although I managed to write a few words on the Oaked Sauvignon Blanc tasting there wasn’t much time for anything else – this week it’s back to seeing how some of the good guys in Bordeaux are feeling about 2015.

After getting the low-down from Jean-Michel Comme of Château Pontet-Canet and Philippe Dhalluin of Château Mouton-Rothschild I didn’t have far to go for my next appointment. I called in Château Pichon-Baron, where the extraordinarily knowledgeable winemaker Jean-René Matignon had been left holding the fort.

After tasting the 2013s, we chewed the cud on 2015 for a while. The meeting was held in French (pidgin-French on my part) so treat the words below as an amateur translation of Jean-René’s words.

Bordeaux 2015

Me: Can you please tell me a little about 2015?

Jean-René: It has been a beautiful vintage, although it was full of challenges. It is too early to say with any precision the profile of the vintage though.

Me: What challenges are your referring to?

Jean-René: The vintage has a relative homogeneity, with good quality in all the wines, and in the cellar I don’t see any weaker cuves.

However, the vintage was not straightforward, there was rain sometimes, and the climatic impact on the vintage varied from one part to another. Some parts of the Médoc were more affected than others. This challenge, for us, was an important one, as across the vineyard the maturity was less regular than we thought it was going to be. So we had to be very attentive to maturity. We had a long wait, observing each terroir independently, so we could pick each at the best time.

Me: Is there any difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot?

Jean-René: The Cabernet Sauvignons are close to 2005 with regard to their tannins, in that they are a bit austere, there is good quality of tannins, they feel juicy. Our wait for good maturity was for the tannins, as we wanted them to be silky and ‘gourmand’. The tannins were like this in 2005. I think there will be silky tannins again in 2015.

The Merlots are very homogenous, really satisfactory. But the complexity is really there in the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The truth will be in the glass though. Right now I am concentrating on a slow extraction. The skins are firm, closed, and they need a slow and gentle extraction. This characteristic of the fruit reveals for me the quality of the vintage. It is a bit unusual. But the wines so far seem to have great definition and complexity.

Me: Thanks Jean-René.

These early Bordeaux 2015 reports are essentially funded by Winedoctor subscribers, the first purpose of this latest trip to Bordeaux having been to taste 2013s for a forthcoming report on that vintage. If you find these reports interesting, please consider taking out a subscription to Winedoctor.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc, Part 2

Continuing on from Oaked Sauvignon Blanc Part 1, I want now to reflect on what I learnt at this tasting. Having sourced all the wines from the Loire Valley, you might think I would already know them well, but that’s not the case. This tasting was definitely an eye-opener for me.

Although I have tasted older Sancerre before – some vintages as old as 20 years – it has sometimes seemed a little hit and miss. I find older Muscadet the same, by the way. My experiences with them has taught me that both wines can age well (I acknowledge this goes against the grain of accepted wisdom, but happily stand by my assertion – because the accepted wisdom is hogwash), but some older wines I have tasted clearly haven’t done so well. The wines that turned my opinion around and gave me the confidence to participate in this event are those of Bertrand Minchin, particularly his Cuvée Honorine. Tasting this in its youth, I have always wondered about the purpose of the oak (and I thought the same when tasting other oaked Sauvignons). Why? But tasting the wines at 8-10 years of age I suddenly realised just how well they age. The oak seems to change the potential of the wine in this regard. These aren’t wines to be drunk young, as we would most Sauvignons. These are wines for the cellar.

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

So I went ahead, and the eight domaines (see my previous post for their identities) sent vintages that ranged from 5 to 13 years old (i.e., 2010 back to 2002). I should point out that Henri Bourgeois graciously offered a range of vintages back to 1989, but I decided we should stick with 2002. But how would these older wines show? Would the oak integrate? Would the wines be tired? Would the lesser vintages (e.g. 2008) be too green? Old, tired, green but oaky wines could be a disaster. I was nervous. On the day, however, I was delighted, as soon as it became clear that the wines had aged beautifully. Sure, some were stronger than others, but on the whole they were fresh and vibrant, as a group of wines a wonderful showing. Generalising, they seemed to have greater focus than I expected, with defined evolving fruit, and the oak seemed to give structure but not influence the flavour once integrated. Even the younger wines (all from 2012) showed more harmony and integration than I expected.

By contrast, several of the wines from Bordeaux seemed quite tired, certainly oxidised in the case of one or two, the rest too young to perhaps make any definitive statement on aging. I expected these wines to sing with absolute confidence (after all, Bordeaux is for aging, isn’t it?) but on the day it wasn’t so. Some seemed a little flat by comparison. The younger vintages were, it has to be said, quite classic and defined though, and delicious. It was the older wines that let the side down here.

And so the tasting taught me three things (or at the very least it prompted me to ask three questions of myself). First, the ability of Loire Valley Sauvignon to age is surely under-rated. Yes, you have to know the domaine and the cuvée to go to, but the wines – oak-fermented and oak-aged – are out there. Denying it seems, to me, to be living in the past, inside the pages of a three-decade-old wine guide trotting out the ‘drink youngest available’ mantra. Second, Bordeaux Sauvignon-Semillon blends are perhaps (speaking of dry, non-botrytised wines) over-rated in their ability to age. Sure, we all know Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion do well with age, but experience with some wines from my own cellar suggests that this success cannot necessarily be extrapolated to other wines. It’s probably a little like my Loire Valley conclusion – you have to know which wines to go to.

And the third thing I learnt? I was surprised how grateful I felt when people came up and said ‘hello’ on the day. It seemed to justify the whole experience and more particularly my involvement in it, and regardless of whether tasters liked the wines or not (because we all have our own tastes and preferences), it made the time and effort I put into sourcing the Loire wines, and the generosity the domaines had shown in sending them over, all worthwhile. I learnt that this is something I should remember next time I attend a tasting arranged and hosted by somebody else.

I guess what really matters, though, are the wines and how the tasters viewed them. I will publish some thoughts next week, for subscribers, and I look forward to seeing how other tasters found the wines when they publish their reports.